As we continue in this “golden age” of superhero films, which began at 2000’s X-Men or 2008’s Iron Man, all depending on who you ask, there’s talk of fatigue, even as “cinematic universes” are emergining into fruition. Marvel has been blazing the way with their films since the aforementioned Iron Man, growing and expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe with each entry and all leading to Avengers: Infinity War, which is currently in production. What happens beyond that is anyone’s guess, but what about that other comic company with its wealth of heroes and history? DC Comics, whose film efforts have largely been Batman and more Batman (which wasn’t a bad thing), only recently got into the game of interconnected films. 2011’s Green Lantern didn’t go over as well as some hoped (even though I mostly enjoyed it), which led them to hinge the start on 2013’s Man of Steel. While there were some bold decisions made with the character of Superman in that film that rubbed fans and the general public the wrong way, it established a world where the last son of Krypton ushered in a new age of heroes and still feels like the beginning of something great. Then, 2016’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice released and proved even more divisive than the first film. Marvel, in a relative similar amount of time, released several films before bringing their heavy hitters together in 2012’s The Avengers, but Warner Bros. moved much quicker, introducing in BvS a new Batman, Gotham City, Lex Luthor, Doomsday, Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman (I’m getting exhausted writing this), and Wonder Woman, who for many (myself included) proved to be the focus of the greatest moments of that film. While it had great parts, for many, BvS never coalesced into a satisfying whole (I’ve still yet to find the “want-to” to even review it). Regardless of what people thought of the movie, I don’t know any who had issues with the stunning debut of Diana, Princess of Themyscera. I cheered at her arrival in that film, and when it teased an origin story for her set in World War I, I couldn’t wait.
Wonder Woman has meant so much to so many in many different ways. While her comic roots are obvious, she’s been championed as a feminist icon (or feminist detriment, depending on who you ask) and for decades, she is one of the few female heroes that achieved large-scale cultural significance. Whether people really knew what she was about or not, they knew the name and her iconic look. All of this influence while only being seen in comics, in appearances on animated series like Super Friends and Justice League, and, of course, in her 1970s television show starring Lynda Carter. While Superman has been in films since the 1970s and Batman has never slipped out of the public eye, Wonder Woman has never featured in a film of her very own. Aside from appearing in 2014’s The Lego Movie and BvS, we are seeing the character grace the screen and come to life like never before. Continuing the DCEU (as it is called) after those films directed by Zach Snyder and the mixed-bag that was 2016’s David Ayer-helmed Suicide Squad, will Wonder Woman continue the disappointment that those have had for so many? While I can’t say what every moviegoer will think, I can say that I highly, highly enjoyed this film and it is, by far, the strongest and most criticism-proof of the films, thus far.
As I said, we were teased in BvS with a black-and-white photo of Diana amidst soldiers in World War I with no explanation given, but now, we have it. Throughout the film, those pictured meet each other, but we begin with a small girl, the only child on her island. I should say female child, as the island nation of Themyscera is unique for many reasons. On this paradise hidden from the outside world, we find a nation of Amazons, women created by the Greek gods to serve as influence for humanity, to lead them to reason and love and away from the barbarism of war, fueled by Ares. Eons ago, conflict broke out between the gods, and the aftermath led Zeus to hide the Amazons from Ares’ pursuit, as they house the “god-killer” on their isle. Over time, the Amazon have flourished, apart from humanity and with no reason or intention to step back into the affairs of the larger world. They train for battle, even though they may never see it, breeding the fiercest of combatants who hopefully will never see conflict. One who eagerly seeks this knowledge and skill is that small child, Diana, daughter of Hippolyta, the island’s queen. Born under unique circumstances, the child is to be sheltered by her mother, even if she willfully trains at night. Once discovered, her mother insists if she’s going to train, she will be pushed far harder than any other Amazon; she is to be the most skilled of all, and Diana (Gal Gadot) truly becomes that.
The beauty and innocence of life on Themyscera is abruptly altered when Diana rescues the pilot of a downed airplane just off shore. His name is Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine), and he crashed after pursuit from the German army. They follow him ashore, causing the worlds of Amazons and man to clash like they haven’t in ages. Diana, realizing that there is a world of innocents harmed by war, is stirred to act and set out beyond the borders of her land. She knows her unique birth foretold of her confronting Ares on the battlefield and besting him with the “god-killer”; where else to find him than in the trenches of the “war to end all wars”? The rest of the film shows her pursuit of this goal and the strengthening of her relationship with Trevor and the comrades they accrue throughout. While I have given more plot description here than I am prone to do, rest assured, there are many surprises to be had in the film, beyond what I’ve shared here.
Man of Steel was mostly self-contained in its storytelling, but the two films that followed were cram-packed with characters and references throughout the DC Universe. I didn’t know what we’d get here, as far as being a story without too many outside references, but I’m glad to say that this is a film that truly stands on its own. Sure, there’s small mentions of Wayne Enterprise and the company’s leader, but beyond that, don’t expect loads of Easter Eggs (or any after-credit sequences at all, for that matter). This is a story all to her own, and the character deserves that. It is worth noting that this is the first superhero film helmed by a female director, and Patty Jenkins handles this film phenomenally. Previously hired as director of Thor: The Dark World before abruptly exiting that film, she never misses a beat, creating a film that visually evokes the three prior DCEU films, while (thankfully) expanding the visual palette. Who knew that clashing the colorful pop of Wonder Woman’s armor and lasso against the drab battlefields of Europe would be so visually exciting? It gives the film an energy all to its own.
Speaking of the film’s strengths, the fight choreography is superb; I took my eight-year-old daughter to the film (I know, PG-13, but we’ll get to that later), and I couldn’t have been more proud for her to see strong, capable women on screen who can fight with the best of them. Whether it’s the training on Themyscera or the scrappings against the German army, Wonder Woman moves with such style, and the film benefits greatly from slow-motion shots (my daughter highly agreed with me there). Everything looks so good here, and while that alone does not make a film, it kept me going throughout. Coupled with the music (which only sparingly pulls from that not-loved-by-me guitar screech of a theme Wonder Woman now has), everything comes alive.
I’ll say it clearly: Gal Gadot IS Wonder Woman. I loved her casting, even when others scoffed at her being “too thin” or too “this” or “that”. Her moments in BvS, gave me hope that she’d live up to the epic heroism of the character when given the chance, and she did so, fully. She’s fierce, capable, beautiful, charming, exotic, and *insert every trait that makes Wonder Woman great*. She’s all of those things and just an absolute joy to watch. Her compatriot in the film, Steve Trevor, regardless of what era of the comics is discussed, has always been key to the early days of Wonder Woman. Here, it’s no different. Chris Pine plays him wonderfully with the same charisma we’re used to him having in Star Trek and other films; he is often the “damsel-in-distress”, but this is never shoved in our faces like some heavy-handed message about the flipping of gender roles. No, the two bring strengths to their bond, and you genuinely believe them to be a team with chemistry that isn’t rooted solely in romance. While there are many supporting characters in the film alongside these two, the film hinges on them working together, and they absolutely do. Need not worry about a man stealing the film, but rest assured that he does make the film better alongside her.
I don’t want to discuss much in the way of the villains played by Danny Huston and Elena Anaya, but they work well together in the scenes shared; I was glad to see a creepily played Doctor Poison (Anaya), showing that here, not only are women heroes, but they are also evil. Otherwise, the film could have been distractingly perceived as full-on “anti-man”, but that’s not what’s going on here at all. What we have is a very faithful telling of the character’s classic origin (with some more modern tweaks to her mythos, as well). I’ve never understood the vehement saber-rattling that happens on the sides of both men and women regarding the character, and hopefully, people can look past the headlines of opposition to all-women launch screenings and just enjoy the film on its own terms. It has a strong message that many superhero films miss out on, and it’s one the DCEU desperately needs after the public is introduced to a neck-snapping Superman and a machine-gun-firing Batman: Wonder Woman is shown to exhibit grace when it is most needed.
Being that I generally try to lift the Gospel out of films when it feels natural, this film made it easy. While I won’t go into the hows and whys of what convinced me of this, I will say that Wonder Woman portrays herself to be a beacon of love and hope in a world that doesn’t deserve it, not unlike Jesus shows in the Bible. Grace, being unmerited favor poured out on the undeserving, is central to the Gospel, and this film in its final moments shows this beautifully. While Superman in the DCEU is reportedly on his way to becoming the moral standard comic readers know him to be, Wonder Woman, despite her sense of naivete to run to help the helpless (or maybe because of it), stands as the greatest example thus far of pure heroism, and being the woman in these proceedings makes her stand even more unique in this growing universe. So far, she is who others should aspire to be, and while I know Superman will get there, I am glad to see she already is. This in no way makes her boring, which is the common critique of “do-gooders”, as she selflessly gives of herself running to the aid of others. This impulse proves to be influential to others in the film, and maybe, it will proved to be for audiences as well. The world could use more “doers” who seek to make the world a little brighter. If that isn’t a Christian message, I don’t know what is.
In regards to content in a PG-13 film that I took my whole family to, I thought the entire film was handled with dignity. I could easily see discussions of gender roles and sexuality (which come up often in connection with the character) going south quick, leaving a film inappropriate for younger audiences. That didn’t happen here. Yes, there are moments of romance and talk of sex in the film, but everything is handled without crudeness, and the proceedings don’t feel out of place within the context of the film. There are no crude quips from Lois Lane or “pee-in-a-cup” awkwardness here, nor is there the exhibiting of unhealthy relationships like we find in Joker and Harley. The film we see, while fueled with a visual flare that is exciting today, feels like a film that could have been made in decades past, which is exactly indicative of the rich history of the character.
Overall, I am thrilled by this film, and I eagerly await the continuation of the DCEU, following this. It isn’t groundbreaking in structure, but its exhibition of strong female heroism amidst conflicts of the past just elevate everything to a level of epicness that the character deserves. We have a new standard set, boys, in the DCEU; let’s keep it up, shall we?